Since 1300, the UK has had compulsory Assay Hallmarks struck on items made of precious metals such as Gold and Sterling Silver. Without a recognised and Government sanctioned Hallmark, it can't be sold as silver or gold in the UK.
Everything from rings and jewellery to tableware carry the distinctive marks we are all familiar with. Where would any episode of Antiques Roadshow be without someone picking up a piece of silver and immediately be able to tell who made it, in which year and by which City's assay office it was struck?
In all that time, the marks have remained fairly consistent and a set of traditional British Hallmarks are immediately recognisable across the world.
Enshrined in Law, our Hallmarks are an historic survival and part of our shared heritage.
In 2013 the British Hallmarking Council (a semi-autonomous body, funded by the four UK Assay Offices) sought a change to the Hallmarking Act to allow them to open assay offices overseas. This was driven by commercial factors, including demand from importers to be able to strike UK hallmarks in the country of manufacture and a desire to compete with the Dutch Assay Office who planned a similar strategy in China.
During the consultation process and in the Government Response Document, Safeguard a quality assurance agency said, 'All such marks should also be clear and easy to understand, relevant and intelligible. SafeGuard also felt there should be a clear distinction between UK-struck and offshore-struck Office town marks. Mr Xxxxx thought that protection would be compromised if UK hallmarks were to be applied offshore.
It was therefore unanimously agreed by the Assay Offices, the Government and others involved in examining the proposed change, that offshore (overseas) assay marks should be clearly distinguishable from those used in the UK.
In fact, all four assay offices designed special marks they intended to use on items assayed by sub-offices located in other countries.
In 2015 Sheffield Assay Office opened up a sub-office in Malpensa, Italy. In July 2016, Birmingham Assay Office opened up in Mumbai, India and we believe a further overseas office is planned in Jaipur.
The hallmarks being used in these overseas locations are the same as those struck in Birmingham and Sheffield, using the same City symbols and assay marks.